2013 Images Blog 8 Andrew James Paterson
Thurs. Apr. 18
On Thursday afternoon I attended the launch of a new book published by Images festival and LIFT and to be distributed by YYZ BOOKS. This anthology, edited by the venerable Chris Gehman, is titled Explosion in the Movie Machine: Essays and Documents on Toronto Artists’ Film and Video. This anthology does indeed include documents: timelines of Toronto festivals, organizations and exhibitors and also the infamous Let’s Set the Record Straight open letter circulated and signed by many Canadian and American experimentalists critical of the dynamics of the 1989 International Experimental Film Congress, which was held in Toronto. Another document included in this publication is a Statement of Unity adopted by participating organizations in the landmark Six Days of Resistance Against the Censor Board: Ontario Open Screenings, action initiated and followed through in 1985, when film and video artists were routinely harassed and even arrested with regards to ridiculous bureaucratic procedures involving censorship and co-operation with the powers of censorship. Thus, the book launch was held in tandem with a panel addressing histories of censorship. This issue may appear to have subsided with entrenched exemptions for “artistic merit” events and venues, but these are not easy set definitions and it is naēve to think that the overall issue of censorship has been resolved or eradicated.
The early evening programme, composed of six works, was titled Before Your Eyes. In moments of severe crisis events of one’s life flash before the eyes…in rapid eye movement. Impending death is certainly such a severe crisis, as are various traumas and illnesses. There were works in this programme physically addressing either sight deprivation or strategic denials of sight (and also sound). Thirza Cuthand’s Super 8 film on video, Sight, deployed coloured staining on top of documented images in order to address both loss of sight and inability to see clearly during episodic moments. Dan Browne’s memento mori consisted of still images the artist has collected during his lifetime, over 100,000 photographs. At the film’s conclusion, I did wonder if that’s all there was. This was truly a durational work, which might have benefited from being installed in a gallery situation in combination with other works (perhaps some still images framed as still images?).
Jorge Lozano’s diptych - Underscore _ Subguion - was this programme’s concluding work which I thought also might have benefited from a gallery installation. However, this diptych (left side man recounting events around an assassination attempt that forced him into hiding) and the right side (red and yellow abstract grids suggesting both pixilation as a device for obscuring faces and bodily details and also abstract painting filtered through video games) is as much about listening as it is watching. Lozano omits references to name, place, and other facts in the man’s story, during which the artist as interrogator is audibly present when necessary. The audience can guess but the audience is not meant to know important details which must be concealed. The underscoring of the omitted names and locations is done within the English subtitles - what is revealed, concealed, and also apparent in Spanish? Lozano adeptly plays with necessary constraints on testimony while highlighting the fact that there are indeed many individuals who are caught in a bind between needing to be seen and needing to avoid identification.
Takahiro Suzuki’s 9214 quite breathtakingly depicts a freight train from below and thus landscapes as well as the machine itself become deliriously abstracted. Jeannette Munoz’s Strata of Natural History draws attention to what is more a stain on natural history practices. Her 16mm film is concerned with a case in which Kaweskar natives from Tierra del Fuego were exhibited in European zoos - there is the pacing wild animal layered behind the showcased “wild animals”. To put it mildly, ugly territory and not so distant either. Isabella Pruska- Oldenhof’s time poem This Town of Toronto … was puzzling. It was layered from the POV of a time-traveling tourist (therefore the ellipsis in the title) - there was a lot of the great fire of 1904 visible amongst the multi-layering. But the film and its title promise so much more, and I felt that three minutes is absurdly short just as Browne’s film could easily lose ten or so minutes and still make its point. But of course there is also a tradition in which works must be of pre-determined lengths, whether because of commission stipulations or because of specific durations of the event or material being documented. So perhaps length is a moot point here; and perhaps my feeling that certain works might play better in a gallery situation is flawed as it assumes that audiences will not watch all of the work in front of them but rather tune in and out of them. Audiences of course can never be assumed a homogenous entity.
Neither can maintenance workers, or homeowners. The next programme was a ninety-minute feature called maintenance, by the appropriately named Adele Home. This work consisted of fifteen portraits of people cleaning up their homes - mostly their own homes but at least one portrait does feature a paid cleaner. Most of those portrayed are the filmmaker’s friends (including the experimental icon director James Benning), but some are individuals who responded to a call for participants. The film does seem to hover between documentary and performance - as with similar projects it can be interesting to project what is verite and what is staged or performed. Set in Los Angeles, Maintenance features a good variety of subjects and subtly comments on social mobility, economic status, and general mobility. Home portrays her subject not necessarily with single long takes and then keeps the audio going while presenting text from interviews she made with her subjects prior to the filming. Some of these texts are more surprising than others.
Many of Home’s subjects refer to “spring cleaning”. Spring has arrived, although winter is threatening to take a final bow this weekend. After the Images Festival concluded, it is time to finally undertake (perform?) spring cleaning. But I have so much required reading to do, so will I or won’t I? One subject (Benning) bemoans how much time he spends on the computer and how little time he spends working with his hands and body. Well, if I could clean my abode by using a computer, I would certainly do so accordingly. Dusting can be such a detour, especially when the cobwebs are your own.